Bad information has led to unreasonable panic levels about the potential of bio terrorism, according to Dr Amy Smithson, director of the chemical and biological weapons non-proliferation project at the Henry Stimson Center.

Smithson told the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee yesterday: “Despite what you may have heard in recent weeks, there are meaningful technical hurdles that stand between this nation’s citizens and the ability of terrorist groups to engage in mass casualty attacks with chemical and biological agents.”

She added: “Facts often get overlooked in such an atmosphere, but I will resort to them nonetheless.” She pointed out, for example, that the panic about crop-dusting planes dispersing harmful biological agents was unwarranted: “In order for an aerosol spray of biological agent to infect a person, the agent must arrive in the human lung alive, in a 1 to 10 micron particle size.” The planes however normally dispense materials of 100 or more microns in size.

Smithson did admit that more should be done to enhance security: “The key to bio disaster preparedness lies not in bigger budgets and more federal bureaucracy, but in smarter spending that enhances readiness at the local level.”

Commenting on the recent anthrax situation in Florida, Smithson said that it was unlikely to be a terrorist attack because “rubbing some anthrax on a keyboard is not a mass casualty attempt.”